-CLUB INFO –
For a more complete history of the club, see “United We Stand”,the book written to mark the club’s centenary in 1998.
Sutton United Football Club was formed on March 5th 1898 by the amalgamation of two leading junior sides, Sutton Association and Sutton Guild Rovers. Although the new club quickly made its reputation in local junior leagues, progress was unremarkable until 1910, when the decision was made to seek Senior status as members of the Southern Suburban League, and in the years before the First World War the Club played at a variety of local grounds, including one season at the Sutton Adult School Ground (click here for detailed ground history).
When the Club returned to the Adult School premises in 1919, ownership switched to the local council and that ground in Gander Green Lane has been home to the U’s ever since. In 1934 its name was changed to the Borough Sports Ground and in 2017 it became the Knights Community Stadium. Sutton United was elected into membership of the Athenian League in 1921 and, after seeking re-election in 1926, the Club revived to capture its first Athenian League Championship in 1928. During the thirties the club established itself as a rapidly developing force in the amateur game and enjoyed several good runs in the Amateur Cup. The semi-finals were reached in 1929 and 1937 but on the first occasion the Club was expelled from the competition because two players were found “guilty” of also playing Sunday football.
Football carried on in a reduced format during World War 2 and the U’s gathered a momentum which would sustain them throughout the next decade. The goals of a young centre-forward, Charlie Vaughan, helped the team to a succession of wartime honours and when the Athenian league recommenced in the 1945/46 season, his haul of 42 league goals helped the side to another title success. The Surrey Senior Cup was also captured for the first time. Vaughan soon turned professional with Charlton Athletic and although the 1950s brought few major playing honours, they were a time of great change for the Club, which was widely acknowledged as one of the most imaginative and forward-thinking clubs in the country.
Assets were transferred to Sutton United Ltd in 1953, with current President Andrew Letts as Chairman of the Club and of the new limited company, and a large new stand was constructed. Top young coaches were brought in to improve the side, including Jimmy Hill and Malcolm Allison, although Ron Greenwood was turned down, but it was not until the advent of George Smith as manager that success returned on the field. The Athenian League title was won for a third time in 1958 and that year the London Senior Cup was captured for the first time.
Progress accelerated under the guidance of Sid Cann, an FA Cup winner as a Manchester City player, and the Club’s “Golden Era” commenced with a visit to Wembley for the 1963 Amateur Cup Final, which was lost 4-2 to Wimbledon, when Eddie Reynolds scored 4 times with his head. That summer the U’s were elected into the Isthmian League and in 1967 they won the league title, the first of four successes to date. Another trip to Wembley followed in 1969, ending in defeat again at the hands of North Shields, and in 1970 the Club enjoyed nationwide fame with an FA Cup 4th Round clash at home to the mighty Leeds United, who fielded eleven full internationals and won 6-0. Cann’s charges finished as runners-up in the league on 2 occasions and won the county cup 3 times.
In 1974 Cann was replaced by his former captain, England international Ted Powell, but United went through a series of managers in quick succession, including current Crewe boss Dario Gradi, before Keith Blunt steadied the ship. His major achievement was to guide the team to win the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1979, the 2-1 win in Chieti being the only time an English club captured the trophy, before taking over at Malm� and being succeeded at The Lane by Barrie Williams. Despite being hot favourites against a team from a lower division, the U’s lost the 1981 FA Trophy Final to Bishop’s Stortford, 1-0, and finished as league runners-up in 1982 after holding what had seemed an unassailable lead.
In 1983 a treble of the Surrey Senior, London Senior and Hitachi Cups was completed, with two retained the following year, and in 1985 the Isthmian League title was captured once more. Controversially, promotion was not sought because of problems connected with the ground but the title was retained in 1986 and the U’s joined the Vauxhall Conference.
Quickly establish themselves as a Conference club, the U’s were usually just outside the chasing pack at the top of the table, and set a Conference record with a 9-0 away win at Gateshead, and also recorded a remarkable 8-0 home win over Kettering. That stay in the Conference lasted five years, with the team always comfortably mid-table until the last few disastrous months of the 1990/91 season brought relegation as an inevitable consequence of injuries and a goal drought.
During that spell in the topflight, however, the U’s established themselves in the national consciousness with two notable FA Cup runs, including wins over Aldershot and Peterborough and, famously, Coventry City in the 3rd Round in January 1989. Tony Rains and Matt Hanlan scored the goals in front of a crowd of 8,000. The Club also captured the Surrey Senior Cup a record six times in succession. Even in 1991, the team continued to show good cup form and lifted the Bob Lord Trophy and also recorded that 9-0 win away to Gateshead.
Hopes of a quick return to the top flight following relegation were not realised, despite two top-three finishes, but the Club could boast of a growing list of players who were transferred into the Football League. That list was spearheaded by Efan Ekoku, but also included Paul Rogers, Andy Scott and Robert Scott, who all joined Sheffield United, Stuart Massey and Andy Barnes (both Crystal Palace), Ollie Morah (Cambridge Utd) and Mark Watson (West Ham). Mark subsequently rejoined the Club. A little earlier, record goalscorer Paul McKinnon had been sold to Blackburn Rovers.
More FA Cup glory was tasted in 1993 when both Colchester and Torquay were beaten on their own turf before a 3-2 defeat at Notts County in Round 3. In 1996 a new managerial team took over, brothers John and Tony Rains, second and third in the club’s all-time list of leading appearances (behind Larry Pritchard).
They guided the team to third place in each their first two seasons, just failing to celebrate the Club’s Centenary by securing promotion into the Conference. That lapse was rectified in 1999, when after Christmas the U’s put together just the sort of run that was needed, 13 wins and 3 draws in 17 matches, to overhaul long-time leaders Aylesbury and eventually finish 11 points clear of the field. The Surrey Senior Cup was also won with a 3-0 defeat of Carshalton Athletic in the final. Unfortunately, the club did not have the resources to bring in the necessary players to strengthen the squad. In most games the U’s gave as good as they got, but there was a noticeable problem scoring goals. Having seemed set to pull clear of the relegation zone at Christmas, the U’s struggled to win games and were relegated again after just one season.
In their first two seasons since rejoining Ryman League ranks Sutton failed to mount a serious promotion challenge, but developed a strong youth team that reached the third round of the FA Youth Cup in 2001. Several members of that side featured in the first team the following season as Sutton figured in the upper reaches of the table for much of the time before finishing 6th and rounding off the season by beating Kingstonian in the Surrey Senior Cup final. After an uncertain start to the following season saw U’s near the relegation zone a superb second half to the campaign, in which they were beaten just three times in the league after October and took 28 points from their last ten games, culminated in a 5-0 win at Basingstoke which clinched runners-up spot. They were unable to retain the Surrey Senior Cup, however, losing narrowly in the final against Woking.
That form inevitably attracted the attention of other clubs, and five of the squad left to begin the following season with clubs in the national Conference division, with midfielder Nick Bailey, a member of the successful youth side two seasons earlier, going on to help Barnet to the Conference title and play an important part in their Football League return. He then moved to Southend three seasons ago for a £175,000 fee, and then to the Championship with Charlton, where although the club was relegated he was voted Player of the Year in 2009, and in 2010 he commanded a £1.4 million fee when joining Middlesbrough before joining Millwall in 2013. His success continued a trend of Sutton producing players who would go on to enjoy successful professional careers, following Efan Ekoku, Paul Rogers, Andy Scott, Rob Scott and Eddie Hutchinson.
The need to rebuild the side resulted in U’s struggling to make an impact in Conference South, with three mid-table finishes. John Rains stood down as manager in March 2006, and he was replaced by Ian Hazel, but the 2007-08 season saw U’s struggle from the start and by the end of March their relegation had been confirmed, with two changes of manager during the season. Although the end to the season showed signs of promise under former player Jimmy Dack he declined to take the job on a permanent basis and Paul Doswell, who had achieved great success with Eastleigh in recent seasons, was appointed in the middle of May 2008.
After missing out on promotion in the play-offs in his first two seasons, as well as overseeing a first appearance for fifteen years in the FA Cup 1st Round, he guided U’s to the Isthmian championship in 2011, and the following season saw them finish fourth in Conference South, losing to Welling in the play-offs, and also reach the second round of the FA Cup, where their tie at home to Notts County was televised on ESPN. Sutton were again in the play-offs in 2014, losing to Dover after finishing second in the table, but last season they went one better as an unbeaten run of 26 league games from the middle of November saw U’s overhaul long time leaders Ebbsfleet and clinch the Vanarama National League South championship, returning to the highest level of non-league football for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
In their first season back at National League level Sutton finished 12th, the highest of the promoted clubs, but it was the FA Cup for which the season will be remembered as U’s made history by reaching the 5th round for the first time ever. After a last minute winner at home to Forest Green had seen them through the 4th qualifying round, they won 6-3 at Dartford before beating League Two Cheltenham thanks to another very late goal. In the third round U’s scored three times in the last fifteen minutes to win a replay at AFC Wimbledon after a goalless draw, and then in front of the BT cameras they beat Leeds 1-0 to gain revenge for the result 47 years earlier. The fifth round saw U’s drawn at home to Arsenal and put up a creditable performance in a 2-0 defeat televised live on BBC1.
Sutton have also made great strides off the pitch in recent years,, establishing close links with the local community through initiatives such as two Community Fun Days per season, organised with the local Metropolitan Police Safe Neighbourhoods Team, and earning the status of FA Charter Standard Community Club in 2010. The work done as part of the club’s Football Development Plan has seen football return to the adjacent Collingwood Recreation Ground with the thriving colts’ section, and in 2013 the club was awarded Business of the Year and was also winner of the Commitment to the Community Award in the Sutton Business Awards. After a programme of improvements which has seen all four sides of the ground redeveloped in the last thirty years, a 3G pitch was installed in summer 2015 and is used by Combined Counties League club Sutton Common Rovers, and AFC Wimbledon Ladies, as well as providing an all-weather sports facility for the local community.